Our View: School confidence is undermined by accountability score process




For what it's worth, the Mississippi Department of Education released its annual accountability grade scores for Mississippi schools and school districts on Wednesday. 


In the Golden Triangle, the scores were generally good compared to last year. Without diminishing the hard work of the students, teachers, parents, administrators and staff, we remain uncertain about what these scores really mean, however. 


In any discussion about school accountability measures in Mississippi, the people who should first be accountable are those who have been in charge of this process. 


Over the past five years, if we were to grade the MDE on that effort, we would give them an "A" for intent, but an "F" for execution. 


Over that period, the MDE has changed its testing programs three times - every year from 2014 to 2016 - while changing what the scores actually measure - from achievement-based accountability to progress-based accountability. Throw in the annual exercise in "moving the goalposts" i.e., changing the "cut score" required for each letter grade, and the end result has been an exercise in comparing apples to oranges to elephants. 


Accountability is important. Parents deserve to know the quality of education their children are receiving. Taxpayers deserve to know what they are getting for the taxes they pay to support their schools. 


The process has been greatly compromised by political interference, with legislators tying funding to accountability scores and changing testing companies to make a political point. The stakes have been raised so high that reports of children as young as 9 or 10 having panic attacks before testing are not uncommon. Teachers complain of being pressured to "teach for the test." After all, the fate of a school's state funding can rest on the outcome. 


That's ridiculous, harmful, shameful. 


It is also unfair. Unfair to the schools, the parents, the taxpayers. 


Given the constantly-changing nature of the state' accountability process, these measures lose much credibility. Simply put, it's hard to put much confidence in the scores our schools are receiving. 


That's unfortunate, because these grades - when they are poor - can undermine confidence in our schools. 


Most likely, it will take several years of consistency in how accountability is tested, analyzed and presented to the public before they truly give us what they are intended to do - a reasonable, understandable idea of school performance. 


Until then, it's best not to make these scores the measure of our schools.



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